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A non-coronavirus disease has led to cancellation of San Juan County Fair rabbit shows

The San Juan County Fair typically features hundreds of rabbits.

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
  • Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease does not transfer to humans and is not related to COVID-19.
  • The disease is highly contagious and often fatal in rabbits.
  • Eleven New Mexico counties have documented cases of RHDV2.

AZTEC — While the coronavirus creates uncertainties about future events, San Juan County youth who show rabbits at the county fair may not be able to show their bunnies due to a different virus.

The San Juan County Fair Board decided on April 14 to cancel rabbit shows. Brook Klitzke oversees the rabbit program and recommended the shows be canceled due to the rapid spread of rabbit hemorrhagic disease in New Mexico.

“It’s a safety measure due to the pretty severe nature of the disease,” Klitzke said.

The virus is a calicivirus and is not related to COVID-19. It is species-specific, which means it cannot transfer from rabbits to people. 

In early March, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the New Mexico Livestock Board tested carcasses of both wild and domestic rabbits for rabbit hemorrhagic disease, or RHDV2. The tests came back positive for the virus in jackrabbits, cottontails and domestic rabbits.

MORE:Spate of dead rabbits due to hemorrhagic disease, agency reports

Tatum Latana cares for her rabbit during the 2015 San Juan County Fair.

The disease has not yet been documented in San Juan County, but it has been found in 11 counties in the state including McKinley County. It is also spreading in Arizona and has been documented in Texas.

According to the livestock board, there have been confirmed cases in Chaves, Cibola, Curry, Doña Ana, Eddy, Grant, Lincoln, McKinley, Santa Fe, Torrance, and Valencia counties.

It is highly contagious and has a high fatality rate, as well as a short incubation period. While there is a vaccine for RHDV2, it is not available in the United States at this time.

Klitzke said the number of rabbits shown at the fair was one of the reasons she recommended not having rabbit shows. Last year there were more than 300 rabbits.

Tori Klitzke checks on her rabbit Tuesday at the 2017 San Juan County Fair at McGee Park in Farmington.

The 4H members who generally show meat rabbits have not started breeding their lagomorphs. Klitzke said meat pen breeding starts on May 4.

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But meat rabbits are not the only rabbits shown at the fair. The fair also includes a variety of pet breeds. The 4H members may already have kits they are raising to show this year.

Klitzke said the fair board is considering other ways these children can showcase their kits, including possibly a virtual show, that won't expose the animals to disease.

People who find large numbers of dead wild rabbits should contact 888-248-6866. 

The San Juan County Fair Board has canceled rabbit shows to prevent the spread of rabbit hemorrhagic disease.

Domestic rabbits that die sudden, unexpected deaths should be reported to the New Mexico Livestock Board state veterinarian by calling 505-841-6161. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is also recommending people alert their veterinarian if their rabbit dies a sudden, unexpected death.

Klitzke said if rabbit keepers have the ability to move their rabbits indoors they should do so. She also recommended that a separate pair of shoes be worn into the rabbit barn and that rabbit keepers don’t allow their dogs and cats to come into contact with the rabbits. She explained that dogs and cats can carry the disease on their paws. In addition, Klitzke said barns should be kept clean and rabbit keepers should take steps to minimize flies.

More information about the virus is available at nmlbonline.com/news.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.